Various causes of a rapid heartbeat can be shocked back to a normal rhythm using electrical current. This procedure is called electrical cardioversion. The underlying mechanism of cardioversion is based on the fact that these rhythms represent circular electrical currents that keep the heart muscle—or parts of it—twitching in an uncoordinated fashion. The electric shock stops the current from circling and allows the natural pacemaker (the sinoatrial node) to take charge. Often, medications are given beforehand to assist in the procedure and protect the person from the unpleasant effects of the shock.
Cardioversion can also be done with medications called anti-arrhythmics. These medications work by restoring normal sinus rhythm. Frequently, they must taken for a prolonged period of time. Common side effects include lightheadedness, fatigue, and nausea.
Cardioversion of atrial fibrillation. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116136/Cardioversion-of-atrial-fibrillation. Updated February 22, 2017. Accessed June 1, 2017.
Atrial flutter. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115251/Atrial-flutter. Updated February 22, 2017. Accessed June 1, 2017.
Ventricular tachycardia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115268/Ventricular-tachycardia. Updated January 26, 2016. Accessed June 1, 2017.
Last reviewed June 2017 by Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC
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